Here Before and the Blossoming of Female Led Psychological Thrillers

~ by Dora Endre ~

Audiences worldwide have always been fascinated by “almost horrors” and thrillers with exciting female leads. It is enough to think of classics such as Hitchcock’s gothic tale Rebecca, George Cukor’s criminally underrated Gaslight or Clouzot’s riveting Les Diaboliques. Or we can go back in our own personal history to see other worthy examples. We have all watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and many of us have loved it. You might say “it is a children’s story, you fool”. Yet, if we ponder on this for a second, it is easy to see why many experts in psychology consider Beauty and the Beast to be a harmful tale of a toxic relationship, a narcissistic partner and of literal restraint. It definitely features components of a psychological thriller.

All in all, the element of fear is tremendously attractive to most consumers of culture and art, whether it is books, paintings, movies or even music. It is in our core to take a peak even if we are frightened to do so, go and see what hides in the dark, what monster lays under our bed, fangirl the bad boy abusive rock star or go for a late night walk in the local cemetery.

In the most recent years, the aforementioned genre has been having a real renaissance. The Ones Below, Kindred, The Night House, The Invisible Man (not the one about H. G. Wells’ raging-mad doctor), The Kindergarten Teacher (both the Israeli and the American versions) and Resurrection are just to name a few. Critical responses and box office successes may vary but the general popularity for the movies made in this vein is still skyrocketing. There is a gigantic demand in the market for new, psychological thrillers preferably following a woman’s journey into chaos and occasionally, into sheer madness.

I have decided to focus on a new mind-bending Irish thriller in this article. Here Before is an intimate movie with a complex female protagonist and is rooted in the ambitious intentions to explore personality, psyche, distortions, traumas and memories.

Here Before aka Freaky Kids Freak Me Out

BBC Film, Pia Pressure and Northern Ireland Screen teamed up to make Here Before as a Rook Nest Production. Stacey Gregg’s feature film debut is an inventive, crafty and most importantly confident piece of art. From the attention grabbing opening sequence ‘till the credits roll, the film is done with bold brushstrokes and firm directing choices.

Laura (Andrea Riseborough) lives in a gloomy small town in the Irish countryside with her husband and son. One day, new neighbors move in next door and what starts off as a nice bond between the family’s little girl and Laura soon goes into dark and twisted places.

I must say before I go into any details regarding the film, I have been a massive Andrea Riseborough fan since Happy Go Lucky and W.E. I believe she is one of the most charismatic, nuanced and exciting performers out there. In Gregg’s picture, she portrays the grief sickened, obsessive yet fragile and loveable Laura with incredible intensity. The rest of the cast does not disappoint either.

Here Before is first and foremost a psychological thriller. However, it also works as a ghost story and as a supernatural drama. It is certainly one of the most eclectic and experimenting films from this year. Is it faultless? Definitely not. But then again, art is subjective. Perfection is not even a thing, and if it existed, wouldn’t it be boring? Personally, I appreciate courage in filmmaking more than anything.

What do I think goes wrong here? From midway to the end, the script floats into muddy, confusing places – I do not mean exciting and confusing, I mean confusing confusing. The Greek drama-like ending – no spoilers here – is questionable too. I think Gregg wanted to shoot for the stars, less would have been more. Unfortunately, the plot eventually runs into a dead-end.

However, beyond the superb cast and the ominous backdrop provided by the sombre countryside, there is a lot more to love about this movie. Here Before is a complex meditation on lies we tell others and ourselves, the toll of loss and grief, and the many dangers of suppressed traumas. The movie talks openly about the stages of dealing with loss, coping mechanisms, the importance of facing our traumas as well as communicating those. It gently portrays how suppressed emotions can lead to a deep sense of isolation, loneliness and depression. Since unhealed traumas make one live in the past, Gregg lets memories blend with reality in a beautiful way. Different senses and tiny details of everyday life evoke moments from Laura’s past. Gregg transmits feelings instead of thoughts.

Furthermore, the movie uses mundanity as an invisible yet powerful storytelling tool, buying fish fingers at the supermarket, picking a child up from school, and taking down the trash in the morning. The script also touches on such important subjects as school bullying or children hurting and manipulating each other and adults.

Here Before

Here Before is visually stunning with soft, clear, meticulously crafted imaginaries. The stillness of Chloë Thomson’s camera, and the detail oriented compositioning is firm and frightening, in a quiet manner. When it comes to editing, the pace feels calm. Calm as in the best possible sense of the word. Watching the movie might require some patience from viewers with short attention spans – current average is 2 seconds, which is crazy – but for avid movie aficionados the rhythm here will feel like taking a soothing, warm shower. I really enjoyed the ancient ritual-esque sounds and haunting score by Adam Janota Bzowski (Saint Maud), which adds further to the experience.

If you would like to see a hyper creative, playful and innovative independent movie then Here Before will be a great treat for you. One thing is for sure, I cannot wait to see Gregg’s upcoming, second feature Bukolia, which is expected to be released later this year. What is the filmmaker who is behind the line “even if it’s impossible, it doesn’t mean you can’t keep trying” will give us next?

Here Before is currently available on Roku.